Over the past four years spent as a commercial boat fisherman, Dutch Baldwin has spent four or five nights per week on the water.
Last weekend, though, brought a night that made history, when Baldwin caught a Maryland-record 18.42-pound northern snakehead.
Baldwin and his fishing partner, Franklin Shotwell, were just about to head in for the evening when they made a detour toward an area where they usually find catfish. They turned their lights on, and Shotwell spotted a snakehead on Baldwin’s side of the boat.
Baldwin used his compound bow to hit the fish near Marshall Hall on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. As Shotwell drove the boat in pursuit of the fish, Baldwin reeled it in. After a game of tug-of-war, he caught it, set it down on the boat and weighed it.
“And we realized we got something pretty daggone special,” Baldwin said.
Around midnight, all of the shops had closed. But first thing the next morning, Baldwin took the fish to the Gray Brothers Market in Marbury, where the Department of Natural Resources confirmed the record.
Baldwin, however, said the night wasn’t out of the ordinary. He has a small but loyal clientele, and before he goes out, he texts a few customers to see whether they want any fish.
“We have a quota that we need to sell, so we go out and do what we can,” Baldwin said. “If we get more, we have more. We keep it, or we give it away.”
Baldwin lives in Indian Head in Charles County but has a widespread customer base, including Alewife on Eutaw Street in Baltimore, which serves some dishes that feature snakehead or catfish.
Like any other night, Baldwin didn’t go out searching for a record-breaking fish last weekend. He simply stumbled upon it and added it to his resume, which already included another weighing more than 16 pounds.
Baldwin, now 41, has been bow-fishing for about 20 years. When he started, he targeted rough fish such as carp. He later started finding snakeheads, began eating them and loved them.
Word of Baldwin’s exploits spread quickly, “and then, boom, a market started.” Baldwin had to wait a year for his Maryland commercial fishing license, but in the meantime he leased one and started selling his catch.
The state recognizes only rod-and-reel fish in its records, with exceptions for invasive species such as catfish and snakeheads. Other fishermen object to those exceptions, and Baldwin isn’t opposed to having two separate records, one for normal rod-and-reel and one for bow-fishing.
“I’m getting flak from the standard angler crowd — you know, that just goes up there, throws some food around and hopes the fish is hungry,” Baldwin said.
But Baldwin is quick to point out that the way he fishes isn’t so simple. He and Shotwell know the most fruitful spots, and they go to find them. They account for the tide and the wind, which creates ripples in the water.
And they aim for about a foot below the fish to account for the refraction of light in the water.
“A lot of people think that we just turn on the lights, the fish swim to the lights and we shoot the fish,” Baldwin said. “That’s not how it happens. That’s a far cry from what we do.”
Compound bow or not, Baldwin is in the record books. Whatever others might think, he says he’s happy to have the record anyway.